Sony has finally improved its Xperia flagship camera for the new Xperia Z5 range (check out our huge Sony Xperia Z5 review to see what we think of the other bits of this awesome phone), boosting the old 21-megapixel snapper found on the Xperia Z3, Xperia Z3+ and even earlier handsets to a 23-megapixel effort that Sony says can track moving objects, perform better than ever in low light, focus in no time at all and even produce great shots when using digital zoom.
Here’s our review of the Sony Xperia Z5’s camera, complete with plenty of samples and a comparison with its closest recent rivals, the S6, G4 and X Style.
Sony Xperia Z5 camera samples
Over the course of a few days I took hundreds of photos using Sony's Superior Auto mode (mimicking how most people would use the camera - very few bother to tinker with the settings) in everyday situations. Sony's Superior Auto mode is strong enough to deal with a wide range of conditions, including all manner of natural and artificial light, as you can see from the below Xperia Z5 sample photos.
So far the Xperia Z5's camera is proving to be very dependable in full auto, coping well with all grades of light. Outdoor shots shine, boasting impressive clarity even before you bump up to the heady 23-megapixel resolution limit and rich, eye-pleasing colours. Indoor shots can look a little soft without adequate lighting, but are still more than fine for social posting or sticking in your online scrapbook.
And when things get tricky with high contrast, the Xperia Z5 handles the situation perfectly on its own. You'll find that darker areas are still bright enough to make out plenty of detail, rather than appearing as black, grainy blobs.
However, the Xperia Z5 does take roughly a second to process each image after shooting, making it difficult to take lots of photos in swift succession - not great news if your subject won't keep still or obey commands to smile and stop flapping around, like a pet, baby or drunken mate.
So, how about that new super-smart digital zoom, which is supposed to help fill in extra detail when you pinch right in to get closer to your subject? Well, I took two 23-megapixel photos down Regent Street to see if it actually makes any difference. The first was taken without using digital zoom, blown up later to show the flags in the distance. The second was taken using the Xperia Z5's digital zoom.
As you can hopefully see, there's not much difference at all between using the Z5's digital zoom and simply zooming into your photo afterwards, with very little extra detail in the second photo. Of course, if you bump down the camera's resolution to 8-megapixel - the default setting - then there is noticeably more detail in a photo when using digital zoom. So essentially, the camera seems to just bump up to maximum resolution for the selected area when using that pinch-to-zoom feature.
Sony Xperia Z5 video samples
Video taken with the Xperia Z5 is as crisp as you'd expect, with a choice of Full HD or 4K modes. Of course, 4K video will fill up your storage in no time, with a one-minute video eating up around 300 to 400MB, so that's best saved for very special occasions.
Sony Xperia Z5 Full HD video sample:
Sony Xperia Z5 4K video sample:
The phone's mic definitely picks up wind easily, but also picks up voices clearly, be it yours or whoever you're shooting. The Xperia Z5's lens snaps onto whatever you're pointing at in a timely fashion and adjusts well to a sudden change in lighting, while impressive image stabilisation in Full HD mode helps to keep shaky-cam issues to a minimum.
You can also shoot slo-mo video if so desired and stream a live feed directly to social media.
Sony Xperia Z5 camera vs Samsung Galaxy S6 vs LG G4 vs Motorola Moto X Style
Here's how the Xperia Z5 camera compares with the Galaxy S6, LG G4 and Moto X Style's snappers for typical everyday shots. I took all of these photos using each phone's auto mode, to get a direct comparison.
First up, the Sony Xperia Z5:
Next, the LG G4:
Now the Galaxy S6:
And finally the Moto X Style:
In tricky lighting such as high contrast, the Xperia Z5 seems to come out the best, with lighter buildings packing a pleasing amount of detail despite that harsh, glaring sky. In low light the G4 still appears to be champion however, producing bright pics with no compromise to quality. The Xperia Z5 and Galaxy S6 perform similarly in low light, although the Xperia Z5's flash shots are the most pleasing to the eye.
As for aritificial light, the Galaxy S6 produces the most attractive tones, while the others are more realistic.
When you get up-close to your subject however, things are much closer, with all four phones picking up on tiny macro details well. As for general colours, the G4 produces the most vibrant shots, closely followed by the Galaxy S6. The Xperia Z5's photos are pleasingly colourful, with greens and reds standing out nicely but not appearing oversaturated.
Finally, the all-important selfie. The Xperia Z5 feels the most 'close' here, with not much space to cram in your mates - although it proves perfectly fine for getting two or three heads in. The S6 is the best for 'groufies' thanks to its wide-angle lens and that HDR mode comes in handy in difficult light, although the G4 has a great fist-pump mode that allows you to easily take a one-handed shot.
Read next: Is the Xperia Z5's camera better than the Xperia Z3's? And don't miss our Xperia Z5 vs Galaxy S6 vs LG G4 vs iPhone 6s display test